An Unforgettable Salmon: I Keep A Fish

After getting back from California, I had a few days—to fish, naturally. The plan was to head up to a spot on the Mighty River where my friend the Shed Man has a camp: in Maine parlance, a small cabin with electricity, no water, an outhouse an access to unbelievable water. Problem is: you MUST get out of the water by 11:30 am or the flow from the dam will sweep you away. This means paying attention in the water, since sometimes they release the water early, and getting up at the crack of dawn. So after a dinner of hot dogs and and macaroni salad—fisherman’s vitamins—I ended up fishing in the rain on water that looked like this:

Fishing in the Rain is Great!

I managed one colorful brook trout and a chub that looked like an over-armored Sherman tank. The rain was great to fish in but I hadn’t solved the fish-appetite problem. A few rising fish could be spotted when things slowed down a bit, and there were a few spinners (kinds of mayflies) and other insects in the air at those points. Then it rained heavy. After exploring upriver, I got back to a more reliable hole and switched things up: I tied in a sinking tip leader and a streamer fly known as a Mickey Finn–bright red and yellow, it looks like a cheerleader’s pom-pom that got electrocuted and needs a haircut. On the first cast, boom: a large salmon hit it “haahd,” as the Shedster says. He immediately threw the hook. Now I was paying attention and the hardest hit I have felt put this fish at the end of my line:

Didn’t Fit in the Net

Here the ethical dilemma comes in. I am not a fanatical catch and release guy. I release fish mainly so I can fish more. Taking care of a fish so you can bring it home interrupts fishing, and if the limit is one fish, the regs say you are done fishing for the day once you take your limit. Here an additional problem kicked in: I was a 30-45 minute hike back to the truck, a walked involving some boulder-scampering and stream-crossing. Ethics were involved because the fish was hurting. I had hooked him quite deep and there was a fair amount of blood as I tried to de-hook him with the hemostat. She looked bad–four jumps on the right had really exhausted her, and though it wasn’t really warm, all the signs for fish mortality were there. I was also headed to the West Branch that day—how was I going to keep a fish this big? Keep buying ice? Killing a fish and wasting it would be a sin, but so would letting it go to waste and die. The fish was truly beautiful:

An Unforgettable Salmon

I understood why some cultures say a prayer when killing animals for good. The act is not to be taken lightly. After cleaning this fish on the river with my Swiss army knife and carried it out using the sinking-tip leader and a stick.  After the hike and a drive, I ended up at this well-known cosmopolitan center, and got myself a styrofoam ice chest, though I could have bought enough gear in there to build a small aircraft carrier:

The Home Depot of West Forks, Maine

To make sure this fish was not wasted, I packed her in ice and drove all the way home and placed her in the freezer for a Sunday barbecue. That cost me many hours in my journey to the West Branch of the Penobscot but I was glad I did. The fish measured out at 21 inches: I am sure the biggest landlocked salmon I have ever caught and the one, for better and worse, that I was fated to keep:

Blessed Be the Fish


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One Response to An Unforgettable Salmon: I Keep A Fish

  1. Rick says:

    A nice story and a problem, most if not all, fishermen face from time to time. I love the names of the rivers back on the east coast. They all sound foreign and worthy of time spent casting and wading.

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